Let’s continue with our new series of interviews with the digital age’s most interesting and eye-opening curators, shall we? A few weeks ago we talked to Matt Thornton/UrbanKill, which you can read here. Now we’re going to have a digital chat with Layla Gibbon, a one-woman, scene-expanding underground/DIY teller of truths, and someone who, in the brief time I’ve been following her in all her forums, has turned me onto all manner of “sick” tuneage. When Layla says something’s “sick”, you’d goddamn better sit up and pay attention in a hurry.
She wrote this best-of-2013 column on her blog, WHAT WE WANT IS FREE, that had me scouring dark corners of the internet for these sounds, and immediately turned me onto Sauna Youth, the Irreperables, Pang and Division Four. I was floored. Who was this clued-in woman, totally wiping all my scene cred under the table? I found out. She’s Modraucous on Tumblr and Twitter; she’s not even a blogger per se – What We Want Is Free is a collection of her columns in MaximumRocknRoll, where she’s instantly the best reason to read that mag since the Reagan/Thatcher era; and she’s – as I found out – the former vocalist of several of Dynamite Hemorrhage’s favorite wild-ass UK/DIY/grrl bands of the 1990s. And so on.
We sent Layla some questions from Norway to San Francisco, where she resides. Those questions arrived back in my inbox with answers, and here’s what she told us about what it’s like being a clued-in digital and vinyl curator for the sick, sick kids of 2014.
DH: What are your primary means of music discovery now – vinyl you buy or listen to; mp3s or streams you play online; recommendations from other curatorial types; all of the above…?
Layla Gibbon: A combination of online scavenging (Bandcamps/links from various social medias/message boards etc) and the fact that I am on one of the people that assigns all the records for review at Maximum Rocknroll, which entails a once a month 4-5 hour listening session. It’s one of the things that keeps me excited about the endless possibility of DIY and music; every month there are many bands and records that blow me away. There are also endless examples of why “just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD” is something that should be subliminally messaged out to the more rote/boring minds.
DH: What sorts of online resources do need to scour to find the quality music and weirdo punk rock you like to listen to and recommend?
Layla Gibbon: I browse various message boards for new releases, partially to make sure MRR is getting as much as possible mailed into us for the collection/review/radio play, but also for my own aural nourishment. Most of my friends and “friends” are also musical maniax so I utilize the various social media formats as well (twitter/facebook/tumblr); there are a few blogs I check out including a few DH correspondents!
DH: The things you write about in your MRR column and online tend to be obscure and unwaveringly self-supported. Is there an element of wanting to lift some of these bands out of anonymity and/or some grander purpose in championing them?
Layla Gibbon: I am a fervent fan of certain sounds, and when I hear something that hits me in the correct incendiary manner my first instinct is to broadcast that feeling to the universe. (eg PANG, knowing that an incredible all female band who sound like a post-Eno almost Magazine meets Wire transcendence existed in my own damn town and I only caught their final show PAINS ME CONSIDERABLY! As soon as I heard them, via Sam Lefevbre, I lost my mind and poured its drooping contents into all possible broadcast modes). I am not interested in hoarding new and exciting ideas/sounds/bands; I grew up in a desolate estate in a creepy suburb of London where most people don’t leave/girls get pregnant when they are 15 etc etc, and I firmly believe that music is a transportative force that got me out of that existence, and I want to transmit the possibility to other similar types. Also listening to lots of music every month it’s clear that many people are stuck in genre tropes, and every time I hear something that is transcendent / disgusting in a genius way, it gives me hope whilst trudging thru the tired stadium crust trenches, and maybe someone else will hear a sound that will prevent them from aping a boring idea and nudge them towards a sick band formation. I like all sorta of music though, and while I tend to err on the side of underground/self made sounds, I like some bands that are clearly not of that ilk, that are aiming for a crummy piece of the music biz pie. I think fame is a tired ideal, but that opinion doesn’t negate my love for sounds created by bands who want to be the Beatles etc. I think because MRR is very strict in terms of what it covers; people think that I am that way inclined as a human that listens to music, which isn’t true. But I prefer sounds made for underground minds as a general rule?
DH: Are you, or were you, a physical “record collector” at any point? What insight can you offer into the state of music accumulation and curation in the digital age, how it’s evolved in the last 15 years of wide mp3 availability, and what it’s done to any taste for vinyl or other formats you may have had or still have?
Layla Gibbon: I still collect records like a maniac… I like that the digital age affords anyone the opportunity to listen to anything, so you don’t have to go to a creepy old man’s house to tape his records any more (an experience me and many girls I know endured in the 80s/90s). I definitely stopped collecting for a bit when I first moved here as all my physical records were in the UK, and I just downloaded things, which I regret now as I am missing physical copies of a few things that are now out of my price range that I loved/that define a certain era for me, eg the Broadcast LPs. But I am still in the vinyl trenches so to speak, I try and buy records from bands I love from now and the past, financing this somewhat expensive habit by flipping bargains found in the Amoeba dollar bin/unloading things that I loved but now no longer relate to. I think it’s sort of sad that kids will no longer buy the terrible Gang Green record and think all Boston HC sucks as a result, and it does feel like people have this insane knowledge of the most obscure music/genre, but then will be missing huge chunks of info / only know about one specific thing. We have experienced this a lot at MRR where a potential reviewer will seem like a vast encylopedia of punk, but will actually only know about Japan in the 1980s and absolutely NOTHING about something as obvious as like, SST records. The internet creates strange focused humans. I have friends who didn’t have to work for a few years in the 90s because of record sales, which is not something that punk bands will get to experience at this point in time because of the internet…but the internet also means that you don’t have to be a crazy bonzer hoarder to know about cool music, which I think is a good thing for the most part. Sorry for the rambling answer!
DH: What parallels do you see to the days of flipping through stacks of records in crates, if any – and what sort of mindset does a modern digital curator need to bring to the search for the best obscurities?
I think the internet means anyone with good taste can potentially make a cool podcast/blog etc, you don’t have to be a Graham Booth or Ryan Richardson to uncover strange sounds from various eras, which is a good thing especially since you can find out about music on your own terms now, without having to deal with as much in-person patronizing/sexist bro mentality, which I think any female record collector has endured…and I think in terms of what is needed for any music hunt is a curious mindset, and a curious take on music in general. Usually people in good bands are involved in a bunch of projects; i.e. good scenes generally are a few people doing everything and a bunch of people just watching it happen.
I guess the short answer would be: being a nerd/sleuth and having a mania for new sounds that excite is a good combination of qualities for such a task.
DH: Does your love of obscure underground music and your need to share it say anything about Layla, the person – and if so, what might it be saying?
Layla Gibbon: That I am doomed to an underground obscure existence?!